‘Boring’ Wild irked by criticisms
The Minnesota Wild have been branded a trapping team since the days of Jacques Lemaire, so any time a game borders on boring, critics usually assign fault to the Wild.
The neutral zone was so congested in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal against Chicago, Wild and Blackhawks players looked as if they were skating through a labyrinth.
In the days since, many members of the national media and hockey fans across the globe have analyzed the game and dubbed the performance as the “same old Wild.” That has rubbed some inside the Wild the wrong way, especially because early in Tuesday’s game, it was clear the Blackhawks who tried to silence the Wild’s record crowd of 19,416 by sitting back in an attempt to limit the Wild’s ability to skate through center ice and lay down overpowering forechecks.
Slowly but surely the game turned into a hard-to-watch, neutral-zone chess match.
“Of course we’re going to be blamed for that,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “I mean, it’s the high-flying Hawks.”
The Wild finally broke through during a four-goal third period and eventual shutout to cut its series deficit to 2-1. The Wild will try to even the series tonight and make it a best-of-three heading into Sunday’s Game 5 in Chicago.
Veteran Matt Cooke returns from a seven-game suspension in his normal checking-line left wing role and replaces Matt Moulson. Coach Mike Yeo revealed Thursday that Moulson, the veteran goal-scorer who has struggled all postseason with one goal and two assists, has been battling through a lower-body injury and won’t play.
Last round, the Wild rallied from a 2-0 deficit to even its series with Colorado and eventually won in seven games. Last year against Chicago, the Wild won Game 3 but lost the first-round series in five games.
Teams leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven series are 246-26 all-time, although the Wild twice rallied from 3-1 deficits in 2003.
“We know that (the Blackhawks) recognize the importance of the game, as do we,” Yeo said. “We know that there is another level to our game that we can get to. We’re going to come out with a real purpose in how we play. We have to stay strong defensively, but I know that there is another level that we can get to with the puck and how we execute, in particular from coming out of our D-zone and through the neutral zone.”
That neutral zone was excruciating to get through for both teams Tuesday. Parise said the Blackhawks played a “good, stereotypical road game” Tuesday where they tried to clog up the neutral zone and take the crowd out of it.
“Show me a team in the NHL that doesn’t play a trap and I’ll call you a liar because every single team does it,” said Parise, the NHL’s second-leading playoff scorer with 13 points. “Whoever does it the best, then they get called a defensive team. I don’t agree with that. Every single team plays a trap.
“Last game, the ice was bouncy. There wasn’t a lot of flat plays through the neutral zone, and I think both sides were somewhat getting frustrated because you couldn’t get it through clean. So then all of sudden you just try to stretch pass and chip it in and skate. They did the same thing to us that we did to them. It wasn’t like we were playing an 0-5 (alignment in the neutral zone) all game.”
In Thursday’s practice, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville scrambled all four of his lines in a search for more offense. The top three lines? Jonathan Toews centered Bryan Bickell and Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger centered Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, and Michal Handzus centered Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
The Blackhawks were shut out twice during last year’s Stanley Cup run. In the following game, they scored four goals vs. Detroit and six goals vs. Boston, respectively.